From the front flap:
Despite five centuries of investigation by historians, the sinister deaths of the boy king Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, remain one of the most fascinating murder mysteries in English history. Did Richard III really kill “the Princes in the Tower,” as is commonly believed, or was the murderer someone else entirely? In this utterly absorbing and meticulously researched book, English writer Alison Weir, an authority on the history of the British royal family, at last provides a conclusive solution to this age-old puzzle.
There are two schools of thought on Richard III. One group, dubbed “revisionists,” believes that Richard’s unsavory reputation is undeserved and that he did not do the awful things attributed to him. The second, “traditionalists,” hold that Richard was tyrannical and ambitious and certainly did commit many terrible acts. Alison Weir is firmly in the traditionalist camp and, after reading her work, I must (reluctantly) conclude that Richard probably was behind the deaths of his nephews.
The way Weir organizes her information is interesting. After devoting the entire first chapter to an introduction and evaluation of her sources, especially contemporary ones, she proceeds to tell the story by citing many of the sources in turn. These do not always agree, and when they don’t, she points it out and explains which, in her opinion, is likely the most accurate account. The result is a narrative that feels thorough and yet not unnecessarily bogged down by detours into conjecture. While I lament the passing of my romanticized view of Richard III, Weir ultimately did compile enough irrefutable evidence to convince me of his villainy.
Some things about the way the information is presented rankle a bit, however. It’s clear from pretty early on that Weir, despite claiming that she approached the question of Richard’s guilt with an open mind, is completely dismissive of the revisionist view, saying “the majority of serious historians have rejected it.” Too, she often seems to base her arguments on behavioral assumptions like (paraphrased) “Surely a man of such integrity would verify his facts” or “This was published during a time when many people who knew Richard III were still alive and would spot inaccuracies.” Okay, sure, but in a political climate where beheadings occur frequently—and when the monarch (Henry VII) in power wants to avoid attention being called to the House of York, as Weir points out herself—are these people really going to feel free to defend him? It’s not that I dispute her conclusions based on the evidence, and I’m by no means a historian myself, but I do have to wonder whether this is how research is normally conducted and presented.
In any case, Weir’s account of Richard’s life, deeds, and legacy is a fascinating and, ultimately, convincing read, even to someone like me who has enjoyed (and likely will continue to enjoy) reading historical fiction in which Richard is presented in a positive light.